Every type of salad says something about the person eating it:
Giant salad in a mixing bowl: "I don’t accept unevenly dressed greens, flimsy plastic containers, or sad desk lunches."
Lettuce-less salad: "I eat a lot of salads, and I will not be tied down to the monotony of lettuce."
Grain salad: "I enjoy things with substance. Also, I prefer not to be hungry again in 2 hours."
Composed salad: "I like order, entertaining, and beautiful things."
With that buttoned-up demeanor, a Niçoise or Cobb feels just right at a restaurant or dinner party but can feel a tad fussy and finicky for a mid-week meal. That’s not the case, though, with em-i-lis’s Melon and Watercress Salad with Honey-Marcona Almond Dressing. It is a composed salad, but an un-fussy one (she even instructs you to “casually layer” the ingredients), the construction of which serves a real purpose.
Em-i-lis has a knack for combining ingredients that you might not automatically think to put together—like celery, rhubarb, and lemongrass—but that, upon tasting, you'll see are thoughtful, inspired combinations. This salad is no exception—there’s a mix of sweetness from the figs and melon, peppery bite from the watercress, and creamy saltiness from the blue cheese—and the composition was a thoughtful choice as well.
The dressing gains heft from a handful of Marcona almonds and the watercress stems—a produce part we’re almost always instructed to discard. It’s a trick we’d be wise to take note of and repeat elsewhere—blending the stems of soft herbs and greens into other dressings, sauces, and purées more often.
Since the dressing is on the heavier side, it would overwhelm and wilt the delicate watercress leaves if everything were tossed together; instead, the dressing is spooned over top, resulting in a beautiful, non-wilty, un-fussy, weeknight-friendly composed salad—and with no compost full of stems.
For the salad
- 1 bunch watercress, washed, large stems removed and reserved
- 1 hunk of cantaloupe (or similar melon), sliced thinly into 3" strips
- 1 to 2 fresh figs, sliced very thinly lengthwise
- 4 leaves fresh mint, chopped
- Blue cheese for crumbling on top
For the dressing
- 1/2 cup reserved watercress stems, including any small leaves still attached
- 1 small handful Marcona almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- Good quality olive oil
- Fresh lime juice
- Salt and pepper
Know of a great recipe hiding in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!